Jonathan Smith, a.k.a, Lil Jon is an American rapper, record producer, and DJ. He collaborated with rappers Big Sam and Lil’ Bo to form the group ‘Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz’. Their debut album ‘Get Crunk, Who U Wit: Da Album’ was released in 1998. In 2000, Lil Jon started his own label and released his breakthrough album ‘We Still Crunk!’ Besides singing, he is the brand ambassador of Don Julio tequila and has also launched his own clothing line ‘2Vicious’. He has appeared in number of television series over the years including ‘Wild ‘n Out’ (2006), ‘Class of 3000’ (2007), ‘Ridiculousness’ (2012) and many others. Along with TV series, Jon has also acted in few movies too. But his songs and music is what makes Jon the legend. Some of his super-hit songs have been featured in blockbuster movies like ‘The Hangover’, ‘The Proposal’ and ‘Step Up’ franchise.
Childhood & Early Life
Lil Jon was born on January 17, 1971 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was raised in Georgia and graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in Atlanta.
He began working as a DJ in Atlanta night clubs and also worked for So So Def Recordings between 1993 and 2000.
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Jonathan Smith began his career by adopting his stage name Lil Jon. He formed the musical group Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz with rappers Big Sam and Lil Bo.
Atlanta based Mirror Image Records signed the group and their album was distributed by Ichiban Records. 1997 saw the debut of their album ‘Get Crunk, Who U Wit: Da Album’.
Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz included the singles ‘Who U Wit?’ and ‘Shawty Freak a Lil’ Sumthin’’ in their album, the latter song was released in 1998.
Both the singles were highly appreciated by their fans and also charted on the Billboard Hot R & B/ Hip-Hop songs at no. 70 and no. 62 respectively.
In 2000, Jon took the decision to start his own label, BME Recordings. Furthermore, he signed a distribution agreement with Norcross, Georgia-based Southern Music Distribution.
In 2000, Jon’s hit album ‘We Still Crunk!’ was released. There were many hit tracks on the album which included singles like ‘I Like Those Girls’. The single reached no. 55 on the R & B chart and was also no.3 on the Hot Rap Tracks chart.
Jon garnered fame and success through his music and was talked about a lot. He was referred to as the ‘new guy’ by the marketing people. Lil Jon was very popular in places like Atlanta, St. Louis, Memphis, and Dallas.
Bryan Leach, A & R at TVT attended Lil Jon’s Atlanta shows and was thrilled and bowled over by his performance. He appreciated Jon’s immense energy during his performance. Leach commented in the Hit Quarters that the energy of the band is what makes crunk music super hit.
In 2001, Jon teamed with The East Side Boyz and signed with TVT Records. They debuted with the album ‘Put Yo Hood Up’ and also combined the tracks that were released previously.
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The group released the single ‘Bia Bia’ and played nationally which also featured rappers Ludacris, Too Short, Big Kapp and Chyna Whyte. ‘Bia Bia’ was highly appreciated and peaked at no. 97 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at no. 47 on the Billboard R & B chart.
In 2002, the group came out with the album ‘Kings of Crunk’. Their first single was ‘I Don’t Give A...’ which also featured Mystikal and Krayzie Bone and peaked at no. 50 on the R & B Chart.
The group released their first single ‘Get Low’ in collaboration with fellow Atlanta hip hop group Ying Yang Twins. The song reached top 10 on the Hot 100 and was huge hit in nightclubs nationwide.
In 2004, the group came up with its fifth studio album ‘Crunk Juice’ which featured the single “What U Gon’ Do”; the single reached at no. 22 on Hot 100, at no. 13 on the R & B chart, and no. 5 on the rap chart. The albums next single “Lovers & Friends” which featured Usher and Ludacris. It peaked at no. 3 on Hot 100, at no. 2 on R & B, and at no. 1 on rap.
Solo career & Production
Along with singing, Lil Jon has produced many urban hit singles. He has also produced many hits when he was still with The East Side Boyz.
From 2003 to 2005, he produced hits such as ‘Salt Shaker’ by Ying Yang Twins, ‘Yeah’ by Usher, ‘Freek-a-Leak’ by Petey Pablo, ‘Shorty Wanna Ride’ by Young Buck, ‘Shake That Monkey’ by Too Short, and ‘Girlfriend’ by Brooke Valentine.
In 2006, he entered San Francisco Bay Area hyphy music scene in collaboration with Bay Area rapper E-40. In the same year, he produced a song for Ice Cube known as ‘Go to Church’.
In 2006, Jon decided to never work with TVT Records again alleging that TVT owner, Steve Gottlieb was deceiving him, but two years later withdrew his objection to TVT sale proceedings.
A rock music album ‘Crunk Rock’ was released on June 8, 2010. It featured many hit artists such as LMFAO, Soulja Boy, Ying Yang Twins, and others.
In January 2014, Jon collaborated with DJ Snake to release the single ‘Turn Down for What’, and on July 22, 2014, he released a single ‘Bend Ova’ featuring Tyga which reached number 92 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Lil Jon has sung many songs over the years which have always featured on the Top 100 list. He has also produced several super hit singles. But the songs for which he is best remembered are ‘Yeah’ with Usher and Ludacris which released in 2005. Also, his 2015 collaboration with DJ Snake ‘Turn Down for What’ received many accolades.
Awards & Achievements
In 2005, Lil Jon won the Grammy Awards along with Usher and Ludacris in the category of Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for the song ‘Yeah!’
In 2014, his song ‘Turn Down for What’ with DJ Snake won the MTV Video Music Awards for Best Direction.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 2004, Lil Jon got married to Nicole Smith. The couple has a son named Nathan Smith who was born in 1998.
He is a huge fan of the famous television show ‘The Walking Dead’ and has also made appearances on ‘Talking Dead’ as a guest.